The only thing some people dread more than public speaking is death.
That’s according to Dr. Pamela Hopkins, director of East Carolina University’s Speech Communication Center, where students, faculty, staff and community members learn to overcome anxiety to make effective presentations.
“We work across campus – any major, any year,” Hopkins said. “You don’t have to love it (public speaking) but you can learn to do it well. Gaining confidence is key.”
Housed in a former radio studio on the second floor of the School of Communication, the center has a lecture room where people can practice speaking in front of a small group. There are also two offices for confidential feedback.
Hopkins and three graduate students – Alyssa Gutierrez, Katherine Hyatt Hawkins and Kelsey Rhodes – offer one-on-one consultations or group workshops on researching, writing, organizing and delivering an effective speech or presentation; working effectively in a group; acing a job interview; or learning to speak in a more professional manner.
The center offers topics on communication anxiety, organizing an effective presentation, dynamic delivery, professional communication and speaking etiquette.
“There is no career field or profession where you can excel without being an effective communicator,” Hopkins said. “It’s what will separate one student from another in a job opportunity.”
Dr. Wade Dudley, ECU professor of history and advisor to the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, asked Hopkins to lead a seminar on effective presentations this spring. About 75 undergraduate and graduate students attended and offered positive reviews.
“I had the privilege of observing and evaluating presentations by most of the participating students,” Dudley said. “Without fail, they did fine jobs. Better yet, those who graduated in May are now gainfully employed or attending graduate school.”
As a result, Phi Alpha Theta has scheduled another seminar this fall and Dudley hopes to hold one each semester.
“I frequently stress to students that presentation of self via speaking and writing is the cornerstone of achieving good grades and employment after graduation,” Dudley said. “Knowing this, it seems fairly silly not to take advantage of the communications center. Professor Hopkins and the center are assets that all students should use.”
Tai-Yu “Terry” Huang, an ECU doctoral student in bioenergetics and exercise science, visited Hopkins because he is required to teach a class. Originally from Taiwan, he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to teach effectively because students might not be able to understand him.
James Coker, ECU associate director of admissions, said a workshop held for admissions personnel will help them better communicate with campus visitors they encounter on the job.
He recently taught his first exercise physiology class and the skills he learned at the center prepared him well, he said. “They provided opportunities for me to practice teach and (work on) skills like speaking speed and pronunciation,” Huang said. “They also encouraged me about teaching and speaking in English. I really built up confidence about teaching.”
Nursing students have also benefitted from Hopkins’ expertise, said Dr. Gina Woody, clinical associate professor of nursing.
“It is necessary for nurses to possess strong communication skills and apply these skills in advocating for patient-centered care,” Woody said. “Studies have shown that clear, concise communication among health care providers positively impacts patient outcomes.”
Recent ECU nursing graduate Skyler Kennemur said Hopkins offered suggestions on improving verbal and non-verbal communication that will help her give important information to patients and their families. “They need to be able to understand, process and make decisions based on what we have told them.”
Since opening two years ago, more than 470 students have taken advantage of the center’s services – which are completely free. Also, Hopkins’ workshops, which she gives on and off campus, have drawn more than 570 faculty, staff and students. The goal is to double those numbers this year, she said.
Before the fall semester started, Hopkins hosted a seminar with ECU’s admissions staff.
One of the exercises focused on articulation, saying each sound correctly. They also discussed often mispronounced words. Hopkins offered some tongue twisters, which she said is the single best tool to help improve articulation. She also gave tips on posture, voice tone, listening and personal space.
“She pulls out a lot of good things to think about,” said Darlene Harrell, an admissions processor.
“We work with so many offices on campus, we’ve got to make sure we’re communicating effectively,” said James Coker, associate director of admissions. “We’re the front door to the university.”
Hopkins added that effective communication can be a challenge as people text, tweet or email instead of having a conversation. “They forget to look people in the eye,” she said.
“As a professional, I can’t imagine a better skill than effective communication,” Hopkins said.
The center’s hours are 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday. Call 252-328-2790 for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Crystal Baity, ECU News Services